For A Dozen Cousins’ founder Ibraheem Basir, food is inextricably linked with family. “Food was always a really big deal in my household,” he said. “Food was what brought us together at the end of the days. It’s also the way we celebrated; it’s the way we marked different milestones.”
Basir, along with his nine siblings, grew up in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, which he described as “a Black and Brown melting pot.” His mother, who is from South Carolina, often made black-eyed peas or red beans for family dinners, but he also grew up eating dishes like Cuban black beans. Today, Basir has a daughter, plus 11 nieces and nephews, hence the name A Dozen Cousins. Those huge family dinners back in Brooklyn were the inspiration for A Dozen Cousins’ first line of products: beans made using Black and Latino recipes. “A lot of what we do as a brand is to kind of just pay homage to that really diverse food culture,” Basir said.
After graduating with an MBA in marketing, Basir worked for General Mills in Minneapolis, and then went on to work for Berkeley’s Annie’s. When Basir first moved to Berkeley a few years ago, he said, he was struck by the different approach many people took toward food.
“In Berkeley, everyone is super health-conscious, environmentally aware,” he said. “And then I go back home [and] spend time with my family, and the conversations we were having around food were completely different. We were focused on seasoning, and does it taste good, is it gonna fill me up.”
That got Basir thinking about how to combine the best of both worlds. “There was just this dichotomy. … I’d think, there has to be a way to bridge the gap a little bit.” He was particularly concerned about the fact that health food wasn’t being marketed toward Black and Brown consumers, especially when food-related illnesses, such as diabetes, tend to disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities. “That’s the consumer that I would hope to help introduce into the space, and that’s a lot of what the brand is built around,” Basir said.
A Dozen Cousins beans come in three varieties, all of which are vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free: Cuban black beans with onions and bell pepper, Mexican cowboy beans with tomato and green chili, and Trini chickpea curry with cilantro and turmeric. The beans come pre-cooked in a BPA-free pouch, ideal for reheating for a quick work lunch or simple dinner or side dish. Right now, they’re available on A Dozen Cousins’ website and on Amazon, though Basir is looking to expand into more brick-and-mortar retailers soon.
The brand also hopes to make a broader social impact through food. Though Basir said the details are still under wraps, A Dozen Cousins plans to provide grants to support nonprofits that focus on solving food-related health disparities.
It’s part of A Dozen Cousins’ larger mission to get young people of color to eat healthier. “One of our founding beliefs is that you can’t separate culture from food. They’re linked together,” Basir said. “And if we had a mission statement, it’s just around, how do you harness the power of culture to get people to eat better?”